Imagining What Can We Do With Knowledge As Knowledge Managers – Charting A New Destiny For KM

ACIES Innovations
November 15, 2020
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The attempt of this blog is to take you through a journey of visualizing working of Organisations and understand the role of knowledge. To enjoy this journey you will have to suspend all your critical thinking and be with me for a while. The best way would be to find a quiet place and then go through the experience.

Let’s begin….

Visualize looking at a large Organisation, the way you look at a map in the screen of a laptop. This Organisation has centres in multiple countries

As you view the Organisation in an unattached way, you will see that the Organisation has different functions, like production, marketing, logistics, Human Resource management. Each of these functions is working on their own, as well as interacting with each other to develop products and services. Some functions are directly involved in products and services creation, wholesome are supporting it. It is working like a coordinated system.

Now, zoom in a bit at the functions and you will see a range of tasks getting performed by them. Someone is interviewing a prospective employee, an assembly line is manufacturing a product, a procurement person is negotiating with a vendor, a product is getting delivered, an engineer is talking to a client to understand the requirement. Actions are happening everywhere in the Organisation. As you keep going through the different functions of the Organisation, you will realize that all of them are performing some tasks or the other, which directly or indirectly impacts the Organisation.

Note 1: Organisations perform different tasks

Take a bit closer look at the tasks that are getting performed. You will see employees, following some defined processes to perform the tasks. Some process may be well defined, while some will be loosely defined. You will also see that in some cases employees are performing the tasks on their own, while in some cases it is the machines that are performing the tasks. In some other cases, the machines and employees are together performing a task.

Note 2: To perform any task we need to have people, process and tools/machines
Note 3: Any task in an Organisation are performed by machines and employees

Now zoom in further and take a closer look at what the employees are working on. The employees are mostly working on tasks which are not easy to perform. The employees will be pinging colleagues, discussing with employees from other teams, experimenting on their own, reading from the internet, or referring documents as part of their work. You will find that many times it is not clear for the employees how to complete a task and hence they are dependent on other sources or will have to think to work.

Now, look at the machines. They are happily working on their task, based on some predefined processes. They work continuously and ensure a good level of standardization of the output.

Note 4: Complex tasks are best performed by employees and non-complex by machines

Till now in our journey, we have seen that Organisations perform different tasks and these tasks are performed by employees and machines.

Now let us slowly zoom out and focus on a few teams working on the same type of task but located in different geographies. Zoom in to these teams, we will see that there is a difference in the way they are performing the task. As we keep studying more and more teams, performing the same type of task, we will start seeing a variation in the way they are performing the same task. Some teams are very good at performing a task, which other teams find it difficult.

Note 5: Within an Organisation, there will be variation in the way the same task is performed by different teams

Now slowly zoom out and look at a few Organisations who are performing similar tasks. As you go through the way they are performing the tasks, you will find that some of the Organisations are much better in performing the tasks as compared to other Organisations.

Note 6: Across Organisations, there will be variation in the way the same task is performed.

From our journey, we find that Organisations perform tasks, and there is variation within the Organisation in the way the same tasks are performed by different teams. Similarly, there is variation between Organisations in the way the same task is performed. The variation in performing tasks within and between Organisations is a reality across industry and it defines the competitiveness of an Organisation.

Now slowly come out of the visualization.

Let us analyze some of the realities we came across from our journey.

1. Organisations perform different tasks:

Everything an Organisation does can be classified into a set of tasks, which will include procurement, production, delivery, logistics, R&D, Process management, HR etc. The set of tasks performed will vary based on industry and whether the Organisation is a commercial Organisation or non-commercial Organisation.

2. To perform any task we need to have people, process and tools/machines:

Any task that we perform involves employees, processes and tools/machines. Knowledge about how to perform the task is embedded in the process, employees and tools/machines. Do note that there are many scenarios where only machines or employees are performing a task, based on a defined process.

3. Any task in an Organisation are performed by machines and employees:

Machines and employees together perform different tasks of an Organisation. Some of the tasks are performed by employees, some by machines and some a combination of both employees and machines.

4. Complex tasks are best performed by employees and non-complex by machines:

Employees are best suited to perform a complex task, that involves a lot of solving of challenges/problems. A task becomes complex when we do not have enough knowledge to resolve it. Employees generate or acquire knowledge to perform the tasks. However, tasks which are simple, rule-based and repetitive are best handled by machines. In this case, all the knowledge is captured and coded in the form of machines. Machines can work at any time, will not have many variations in performance and can be cost-effective.

5. Within an Organisation, there will be variation in the way the same task is performed by different teams:

The main reasons for this is the uneven distribution of knowledge across the Organisation. As a result, there will be some teams who are much more efficient and effective in performing a task as compared to other teams within the same Organisation. This unevenness will be more marked in the case of complex tasks as compared to non-complex tasks.

6. Across Organisations, there will be variation in the way the same task is performed by different teams:

Similar to uneven distribution of knowledge within Organisations, there is an uneven distribution of knowledge across Organisations. For a given task some Organisations will be able to perform a task in a more efficient and effective manner as compared to another Organisation.

7. Industry is always continuously improving:

Any industry keeps improving through innovation and as a result, becomes efficient and effective. This movement towards efficiency and effectiveness is enabled by Organisations as they compete with each other. Hence an Organisation which is an industry leader in terms of efficiency and effectiveness may not have that position after a few years.

8. Organisational learning is a very slow and ad-hoc process:

Organisations learn when they find new ways of performing a task. However as the size of the Organisation increases and when the same type of task is performed across multiple centres, the pace in which learning happens slows down. Note that one can say an Organisation has learned (with respect to the task) only when there is a level of standardization in performing the specific task across multiple teams.

From the visualizations and the realities emerging from that, one can realize that knowledge and managing knowledge provides levers which can be used to help Organisations in many ways, be that to become competitive, ensure standardization across, generate revenue, bring down the cost, improve quality etc. It is up to us Knowledge Managers to visualize and understand it.

The possible contributions of the KM function can be at the Organisation level, task level and employee level.

Organisation level
  • Build and sustain competitiveness: Ensure knowledge levels of the Organisations matches with that of the industry. KM function should close gaps with respect to Organisations’ ability to perform specific tasks vis-à-vis industry. Note that gaps should not be defined at the employee level but at the task level and the Organisation’s ability to perform the tasks. Reference
  • Facilitate standardization: Remove knowledge unevenness by ensuring knowledge distribution is more or less the same. This would mean when similar tasks are performed across multiple centres of an Organisation, their performance parameters should be more or less the same. It will be done through the proper embedding of best practices, process standardization, building relevant tools, training employees etc.
Task level
  • Build maturity in performing tasks: This service is closely related to ‘Build and Sustain Competitiveness’, but is being called out separately at the task level. The focus will be on building maturity in the ability of an Organisation to perform critical tasks. This is done by embedding knowledge in people, process and tools/machines.
  • Facilitate transition to automation: Help Organisations get into a journey of automation by bringing down the complexity in the way they perform different tasks. This is done through continuous learning and embedding those learning.
Employee level
  • Helping employees perform their task: Helping employees inculcate the Knowledge enabled way of working. Employees should be trained on how to work by leveraging not only their knowledge but knowledge with other employees.

Do note that I am not calling out typical KM function like Knowledge transfer, sharing/collaboration, knowledge retention, content management, as these are generic functions and should be part of any KM function.


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